A select group of home-grown bike brands exist which have developed a formidable reputation among cyclists in the know. Kinesis UK is one of them.
The company was born in 1999, when Kinesis International, a manufacturer with an established reputation in Taiwan, approached Dom Mason, a British mountain biker with a background in engineering, to develop their brand for the UK market.
The company’s first frame, the Racelight R, was born. Since then, Kinesis has developed a niche for high-quality, unique, UK-designed frames, developed for British conditions, but which won’t break the bank.
The Racelight T followed and Kinesis UK’s lightweight winter training frame has been Mason’s biggest success story.
“My thing was mainly mountain biking so I came in to it with a slightly naive point of view,” says Mason. “I couldn’t understand why winter bikes had to be really heavy and with odd angles, and that you had to throw poor componentry at it.
“I thought, surely it’d be better if you rode something through winter that felt like a race bike, so that when summer came it didn’t feel like you had to get used to your race bike again.
“So I designed a winter training bike which was more like a race bike in terms of geometry, and it was light, but it had clearance for big tyres, mudguards and it wasn’t too expensive.”
The Kinesis UK range now covers 21 frames (eight road, four cyclo-cross, six mountain bike, and three in the 10th anniversary ‘Decade’ collection), and 15 complete bikes.
The Racelight series has become the benchmark for a winter training frame and the latest evolution, the Racelight TK3, was unveiled at the Cycle Show last month.
The front-end of the frame has had a major overhaul for 2013, with the addition of a tapered steerer – a feature which has become de rigueur on performance-focused machines in recent years – paired with a Tracer 1.5 carbon fork.
Mason believes it’s the first full monocoque fork to have clearance for full mudguards, 28mm tyres, and long drop brakes.
“The whole front end is now more like your best bike. It’ll ride like a road race front end. It’ll be responsive, the braking will be much better, and it’ll feel much more sporty,” says Mason.
“Also, the whole package is much lighter, so it’s fully come round now and is a four-seasons race bike. With mid-range componentry it’s about 20lbs [9kg].
“The tubeset for that frame has always been really nice but it’s almost been let down in the past by the fork and the headtube. Now we’ve got the full carbon fork and tapered headset and it’s a much more complete package. It’s really come of age.”
Interest in the Racelight TK3 has been significant and Kinesis UK’s first batch sold out soon after the frame was announced.
“Winter training frames aren’t the most exciting things, but the excitement over that has been amazing,” says Mason.
“Riders in the UK put more hours in on their winter training bike than they do on their best bike so why shouldn’t it be cutting edge?”
The Racelight TK3 will be available as a Shimano Tiagra build for £1,169.99 but Mason expects to sell more as a frameset (£549.99).
“Building a bike is a labour of love,” he says. “There’s something really special about building your own bike; selecting the frame and each component, There something intimate about that.”
Not one to rest one his laurels, Mason has already moved on to his next project. He showed us a prototype of his latest frame at the Cycle Show. Slated for a model year 2014 launch, it continues the Brighton-based designer’s love affair with aluminium.
“I want to push alloy hard as I think it’s under-rated,” says Mason. “Because everyone jumped on carbon a few years ago, alloy got forgotten about. All the development was going into carbon but you can put the same development into alloy, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Mason describes the frame as “sporty” and “for people who like going fast”. It’ll bear the hallmarks of a modern carbon fibre machine – BB30 bottom bracket, chunky chainstays and an ovalised seattube – but on a frame which underpins Mason’s design ethos.
“I think people have become a bit bored with carbon frames,” he says. “If you’re going to spend £750 on a cheap carbon frame then you might as well spend the same on a really good aluminium frame. It’s going to be roughly the same weight as a carbon frame from about four years ago.
“Carbon doesn’t interest me as much. It’s too expensive, it’s a bit soulless, I feel there’s so much more you can do with alloy and there’s a whole load of people who don’t want a carbon frame.
“It’d cost us $5,000 per mould for a carbon fibre frame, and then in five sizes, and we can’t afford to do that – and I’m not ever going to buy an open mould bike and put stickers on it.
“It’s an easy way to do it, it’s an affordable way to do it and the Taiwanese carbon fibre frames are probably the best in the world. There’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s not something I’m ever going to be doing.”
It’s a philosophy that Kinesis UK’s reputation has been built on and one which will come as a welcome relief to the countless riders racking up the miles on Mason’s bikes this winter.